Boris Johnson’s Plan B measures that say people should work from home but are allowed to go out partying after have been branded “irrational”.
The prime minister suddenly shifted the government’s approach to tackling coronavirus in England on Wednesday, with an extension of mask-wearing from Friday, a return to working from home on Monday and mandatory COVID passports for large venues from Wednesday.
Masks in hospitality – including in pubs and restaurants – are not required, leading to a situation where the government is asking people to not go into work to help curb a rise in infections, but allowing friends and colleagues to party together over Christmas at the same time.
This morning, health secretary Sajid Javid attempted to defend the new rules, describing them as “proportional”.
Questioned whether it makes sense to instruct staff to work from home but to still permit parties and other socialising, Javid told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I think it is proportionate, actually, when you look at these measures, whether it is the working-from-home guidance, the rules around face masks, the NHS COVID pass, and all of these.
“It is a real sort of spectrum of response that you can have.”
Watch: What are the new COVID restrictions under Plan B?
Referring to the announcement of mandatory COVID passes for large venues, Javid added: “It could be guidance, you could have COVID passes clearly in more settings, you could have face masks in more settings, but you have to take a balanced decision that takes into account a number of factors and, of course, the key here is to slow the spread of the new variant, and these measures will help do that.”
Javid said “people could see how the measures would work” from the Plan B guidance.
Senior Tories have also hit out at the seemingly contradictory new rules.
John Redwood said: “It doesn’t make any sense. It was clearly contradictory. The government should think again.”
Andrew Bridgen added: “For a government which claims to follow the science, I think they’ve lost their marbles. The restrictions are incoherent and irrational.”
Conservative anger has been fuelled by suspicions the new measures were introduced as an attempt to distract from the prime minister’s troubles over an alleged staff party in Downing Street during last December’s lockdown.
But Javid insisted the measures are necessary to “build our collective defences” through the vaccination programme in the face of the rapidly-spreading Omicron.
The health secretary acknowledged the decisions will have a “real impact on our liberties” but insisted that taking action now is the only way to avoid having to impose tougher measures later.
He faced a barrage of Tory criticism when he announced the measures in the Commons at the same time as Johnson addressed the nation on Wednesday.
The new regulations will be put to a debate and vote in the Commons next week and with Labour’s support they are certain to be approved, despite the prospect of a large Conservative revolt.
The Plan B measures will be reviewed on 5 January, before their expiry date of 26 January.
Watch: Don't cancel Christmas parties or nativity plays, says Boris Johnson